Parashat Kdoshim

Parashat Kdoshim

פרשת קדשים

(Wayikra 19:1 – 20:27)

Miriam Klimova Rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and Rabbi at the “Shirat ha-Yam” congregation in Haifa.
Imagine a perfect morning: the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the singing of spring birds outside the window. You open the door to your apartment, you grab a fresh newspaper brought by the mailman already before dawn, you sit at the table, the paper rustles nicely as you open it and you read the latest news. And suddenly it becomes obvious – a perfect world doesn’t exist, and there are no perfect people…

Similarly we open our weekly Torah chapter.

We see that it begins with a surprising commandment: kdoshim tihju, “You shall be holy!”, but right away we face a difficult question – how can humans be holy?! If being holy requires us to become perfect, then most probably this has nothing in common with the reality which surrounds us.

Parashat Kdoshim forces us to reflect on what holiness is. Is it a certain emotion, or an experience, or maybe you need to be born “holy”?

The commandment to sanctify oneself and to be holy appears in many places in the TaNaCh and it usually refers to sanctifying yourself from something or to making someone holy. For example in II Samuel 11:4: “for she was sanctified from her uncleanness”[1]; in the Book of Joshua: “sanctify the people”. We know the commandment to sanctify the name of God, we also make the Shabbat holy. So the concept of “holiness” has different definitions.

One of the most famous researchers of this concept is  Rudolf Otto, a German philosopher and theologist, who wrote a famous book entitled “The Idea of the Holy”, in which he tried to define this concept and the way in which holiness is experienced by humans. Being a protestant theologist, he was worried by the tendency of liberals to reduce religion to ethics. He was trying to prove that there is a religious element in human nature which is inherently independent from the ethical element. It is a part of ourselves which reacts to that which is mysterious and surprising, to the reality which is both stunning and fascinating, which cannot be neither appropriately understood nor rationally explained. According to Otto the word “holy” and its counterparts point to a sense of a “mysterious” divine reality which evokes fear, respect and humility. This feeling in its simplest and most primitive form is terrifying, shocking and horrifying. In his opinion holiness is a combination of two forces: fear of the sublime character of this thing, and also a longing to draw close to it.

Others describe holiness as a sublime and highest dimension transcending reality. Perhaps there is some truth in these definitions, but it’s difficult to combine them with the commandment “you shall be holy” – here and now!

The commandment “you shall be holy” also states a reason for it: “for I, your God, am holy.” Holiness is an attribute of God, and therefore we must understand how a physical person can be close to the One who doesn’t have any flaws?!

I suggest that we look for an answer in the words of Midrash Avot de-Rabi Natan 27:

„Rabbi Tarfon taught: Do not keep away from a measurement without boundaries, or from work without end. A parable: To what can this be compared?… to someone who is supposed to take water from the sea and put it on dry land. The sea gets no smaller and the land is not filled up with water. So he becomes frustrated. Say to such a person, Empty one! Why are you so frustrated? Every day you are paid a golden dinar!”

Seeking that which is unreachable can be a means to achieving it. The distance between the sublime perfectness of God and our earthly limitations is infinite just like the waters of the sea, but the Torah encourages us to strive to reduce this distance.

The key to understanding the concept of holiness in Judaism is the statement that the path to reaching holiness is following the path showed by God. In Rabbinic literature we find many ways through which one can achieve closeness to God and thereby become a holy person:

„וכי אפשר לאדם להלך אחר השכינה? אלא להלך אחר מידותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא: מה הוא מלביש ערומים – אף אתה הלבש ערומים; הקדוש ברוך הוא ביקר חולים – אף אתה בקר חולים; הקדוש ברוך הוא ניחם אבלים – אף אתה נחם אבלים; הקדוש ברוך הוא קבר מתים – אף אתה קבור מתים” – (תלמוד בבלי, מסכת סוטה דף יד)

„But is it actually possible for a person to follow the Divine Presence? Rather, the meaning is that one should follow the attributes of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Just as He clothes the naked, so too, should you clothe the naked. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, visits the sick, so too, should you visit the sick. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, consoles mourners, so too, should you console mourners. Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, buried the dead, so too, should you bury the dead.” – Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sota, 14.

Humans can be holy when they walk the paths of God, when they do good deeds for others and when they work towards the existence of the world. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that several verses later we find another well-known and often quoted commandment:

וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ…

„Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.”

In Judaism holiness is not an experience, it’s not an emotion, and you don’t have to be born holy. In Judaism holiness – is an action!

So let’s go back to the perfect morning: again, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, birds singing, a newspaper, the latest news… and suddenly it becomes clear: the world needs holiness, your holiness!

Shabbat Shalom!

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinic student at HUC in Jerusalem, 
A Rabbi at the Shirat ha-Yam congregation in Haifa.

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka

[1] English translation according to the Polish version [translator’s note].

Acharei Mot

Self-esteem vs. self awareness

Thoughts on parashat Acharei Mot

Menachem Mirski

After the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, God instructs Moses regarding the atoning sacrifices to be offered by the kohanim on Yom Kippur:

God said to Moses: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover. Thus only shall Aaron enter the Shrine: with a bull of the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. […] And from the Israelite community he shall take two he-goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron is to offer his own bull of sin offering, to make expiation for himself and for his household. (Leviticus 16:2-6)

What did this expiation look like? Our Sages teach us that it was done through verbal confession of sins:

And the priest places his two hands on the bull and confesses. And this is what he would say in his confession: Please, God, I have sinned, I have done wrong, and I have rebelled before You, I and my family. (Mishna Yoma 3:8)

The Hebrew word for confession, vidui, comes from the verb lehitvadot – to confess – which is in Hebrew a reflexive verb (as, generally speaking, all the verbs of the binyan hitpael). Therefore, according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh, the confession ordained by the Torah does not consist of a confession of sins made to another person; furthermore, it is not even a confession made to God, but as its grammatical reflexive form implies, it is confession in which sinner makes himself aware of his sin:

We should not conceal our past misdemeanors from ourselves but regard them with an unprejudiced eye, without extenuation. We should admit to ourselves that not only should we have acted differently but that it was in our power to have acted differently. By doing this we admit and proclaim our freedom of choice, and when we utter the formula “I have sinned” in all sincerity, we include the idea “I shall not repeat the offence”. (Hirsh on Leviticus 16:4)

Thus, the essence of the confession experience is self-awareness. But self-awareness is also an essential part of all our interpersonal interactions. And here we touch on a significant problem. In the last few decades, starting from the 1970s with Generation X through Generation Y and Z, there has been a real flood of narcissistic and self-centered attitudes, among both men and women. The psychological core of this phenomenon is, in my opinion, low self-awareness regarding certain traits of one’s own character. All of this has its origins in upbringing and has been largely caused by the psychological and socio-cultural concepts openly promoted in the Western culture, such as the concept of self-esteem or other concepts of self-acceptance. These concepts, very often expressed in the form of slogans, like “love yourself”, “everybody is special” etc. seem to be forms of positive, corrective reactions to common, negative socio-cultural practices, to something I would call “the culture of constant degrading and humiliating each other” (someone who grew up in the Polish provinces in the 1980s and 1990s knows what I’m talking about), still present until today in some areas of the Western World. This new (in those days) philosophy of upbringing has definitely had a positive impact on our life, freeing individuals from malice and resentment coming from the social environment. But these doctrines also generate side effects that are profoundly damaging to us, both psychologically and socially. Slogans and concepts of that kind should be applied only to the spheres of human identity – religious, national or sexual. Nobody should be entitled to tell you what you should believe in or to what social group you should belong. However, if we apply these kinds of philosophies to other areas of life, like those pertaining to character or moral issues, they can, and usually do, a lot of damage.

Let’s focus on the self-esteem concept for a moment. It basically teaches you to regard yourself with esteem, no matter what you do or who you are, because it builds your confidence and you need confidence to succeed in your life. Fair enough. But if so, why don’t we just call it confidence? Here is the problem: confidence must be earned. We earn confidence by learning, practicing, working, developing our skills etc. If you just focus on building your confidence it’s likely you will become delusional about yourself. With no connection to reality you can score 90-100% in self-esteem tests, then become an unemployed alcoholic and still score 90-100% in these tests. It is so because the whole point of self-esteem is to be proud of yourself even if there is absolutely no reason to be proud of yourself. Self-esteem can be then called ‘unearned confidence’. It equips you for nothing. It won’t help you at school, it won’t help you at work – it will stifle your career and ambitions, and it will certainly wreck havoc on your relationships. Sure, insecurity and self-doubt can also be damaging but at least there is a chance that they may drive you to be better, in whatever field or area. A person with high self-esteem, also known as narcissist, feels good about himself on the basis of nothing.

We all know self-centered, egotistic people who talk all the time only about themselves. Obviously it’s not a binary issue, we can say that everyone is more or less self-centered. But there are extreme examples in this matter and that’s what I’m focusing on here. Self-centered and narcissistic people often impress others with their life stories, achievements etc. But it is all temporary because that kind of psychological constitution causes many problems. Highly self-centered people constantly overlook or ignore the needs of others. In some cases they don’t even leave other people room to express themselves. By being blind other people’s needs and feelings they inflict emotional harm on them. People like that often have no ability to listen and are more likely to be dismissive of other people’s ideas and thoughts. All of that tremendously affects their connections with other people, particularly the matters of love and friendship, making them incapable of being in long-term love relationships.

On top of that highly self-centered people often have a tendency to overlook their flaws and sins. But being self-centered or narcissistic doesn’t make you by definition a bad person. It’s often difficult to qualify their behavior morally, as something bad or morally questionable. Highly narcissistic or egocentric people may be morally ok and may be right in their moral judgments about themselves: “I don’t steal, I don’t lie, I have never tried to seduce a married person… So what’s the problem?” Therefore, we often don’t have moral tools to judge them or to inspire them to change their behavior. The only remedy for this is self-awareness, which often takes years to develop. But this is where our tradition can be of great help for us: it constantly makes us more social, more sensitive to the needs of others and it contains a lot of wisdom in this matter.

 Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

 

Thoughts on Pesach 5782

Leave Behind

Thoughts on Pesach 5782

Menachem Mirski

This Friday at sunset we will mark the beginning not only of Shabbat, but also the festival of Pesach, which is one of the main pillars of our religious experience and our identity. Passover is a festival of freedom and joy, but also of certain duties and necessary sacrifices which are supposed to shape us psychologically so that we become conscious “owners of freedom”:

The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders… Moreover, a mixed multitude went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. (Ex 12:33-34;38-39)

The above story is the source of a law according to which during Pesach we don’t eat not only leavened bread, but also any kind of products containing chametz, i.e. made based on the leaven of five grains: rye, wheat, spelt, oat and barley, or containing even trace amounts of them, if the process of their production could have led to the creation of leaven. Not only eating, but also owning these products on Pesach is forbidden.

Sometimes it is generally said that we do all this to commemorate those events; but this statement is not correct, since this tradition is based on a “stronger” rabbinical rule expressed in the Mishna (Pesachim 10:5): “In each and every generation a person must view himself as though he personally left Egypt, as it is stated: ‘And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8)”. This rabbinical rule is almost ordering us to “embody” the fact of leaving Egypt, so that we never go back there again and so that once and for all we can remain free people, which in the human world has always been and still remains a challenge, often an uneasy challenge.

That’s among others the reason why our tradition abounds in rituals and laws helping us “embody” the experience of the exodus from Egypt. Some of them are laws regarding chametz:

When one searches for chametz on the night of the fourteenth or the day of the fourteenth [of the month of Nissan] or in the middle of the festival, he should recite the blessing before he begins to search: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us about destruction of chametz. And he searches and seeks [it] in all of the places into which we introduce chametz, as we have explained. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Leavened and Unleavened Bread 3:6)

And he searches and seeks [it] in all of the places into which we introduce chametz…– such a search can be very time consuming or actually never ending, if someone treats this matter very meticulously. So we don’t become obsessed over this, the Rabbis decided that there must be a rule limiting the practice of searching and getting rid of the chametz:

And when he finishes searching – if he searched on the night of the fourteenth or on the day of the fourteenth [Nissan] before the sixth hour, he must nullify all of the chametz that remained in his possession and that he does not see. And he should say, “All the chametz that is in my possession that I have not seen – behold it is like dust.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Leavened and Unleavened Bread 3:7)

Therefore we are obliged to end the search for the chametz at a certain point and recognize that we’ve done everything in our power and seal this with the above mentioned statement. In my opinion what’s very important here is that we should use such “limiting rules” not only with regards to chametz, but also many other areas of our lives. Let us then engage in an intellectual experiment and let’s consider that chametz is: a burden, a problem, a hardship, a yoke or – a weakness or addiction. All such things are obstacles limiting our freedom. We should be always eliminating them from our lives. In many cases we should be as meticulous as with the searching for and destruction of chametz, otherwise the problems and burdens will quickly come back to us. But here we also need a “limiting rule”, so that we don’t become obsessed with fighting against all these things, since this can yield contrary to expected effects. For example focusing obsessively on one’s own weaknesses or an exaggerated search for evil in everything that surrounds us, even if the motivation behind it is positive, doesn’t make our life better. At a certain point while fighting against such things we must simply recognize that we’ve done a lot, that we’ve done all that was in our power, seal it with a blessing, leave those burdens and weaknesses behind us and keep on living our lives, not letting ourselves be determined by something we have already largely overcome, yet not completely.

Shabbat shalom,

Chag Pesach Sameach!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka

Vayakhel

Defending our values requires sacrifices

Thoughts on parashat Vayakhel

 Menachem Mirski 

Our Torah portion for this week is among those that deal with the building of the Mishkan / Tabernacle. At the very beginning of our parasha Moses speaks to the Israelites about the necessary contributions they need to make in order to build the House in which God Himself resides.

Moses said further to the whole community of Israelites:This is what יהוה has commanded: Take from among you gifts to יהוה; everyone whose heart is so moved shall bring them—gifts for יהוה: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, and goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and the breastpiece. And let all among you who are skilled come and make all that יהוה has commanded: the Tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its clasps and its planks, its bars, its posts, and its sockets […] And everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit was moved came, bringing to יהוה an offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting and for all its service and for the sacral vestments. Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make an elevation offering of gold to יהוה, came bringing brooches, earrings, rings, and pendants — gold objects of all kinds. (Ex 35:4-11;21-22)

The Israelites brought these precious materials and did this work in the name of faith in fundamental, holy principles, as well as to build their national and religious identity and unity. Today all of this is in a deep crisis, especially in the Western World. We, people of the West, are narcissistic when it comes to our lifestyle and self-obsessed in terms of what we believe our role on Earth is. One of our fundamental mistakes is that we think that the entire world thinks like us and wants what we want, namely, economic prosperity and good life for every citizen. The thing is that this is not the case of countries ruled by dictators and oligarchs, like Russia, China or Iran.

In April 2019 the Levada Center pollster published a poll according to which 70 % of Russians believe that Stalin played a positive role in the history of Russia (only 19 percent viewed Stalin’s role negatively, down from 32 percent in 2016.) The prevalence of such a view in Russian society was almost unthinkable in the 90’s or even in the early 2000’s. Nostalgia for the „old greatness” of the Soviet Empire has significantly grown in the recent two decades and it doesn’t matter that the entire Russian economy has a GPD almost the same as the state of Florida. It doesn’t matter because the leadership of countries like Russia, China or Iran doesn’t care about the prosperity and good life of their citizens – it is actually at the very bottom of the list of their priorities. Their top priority is the “mythical greatness” of their countries, to which, unfortunately, a significant part of their society gives the green light (not forgetting, of course, about those who strongly protest against such mythomania). Thus I suppose that the economic sanctions will have a little, if at all, impact on Russia and her “imperial ambitions”.

Another problem that we have in our Western societies is that currently we can’t even unify what our chief social philosophy is or what our values are. We can’t even unify that our history has a deeper meaning and is worth reverence, or at least – respect. What is pervasive instead is self loathing, pointing fingers at each other and virtue signaling – pointing out who is smarter, more just and more moral, and it is usually “us” who are all those things. It all means nothing if there are no unified standards in this matter and if there are no commonly shared values, it becomes yet another driving force for social tribalism and political divisions. Without unifying standards more and more people involved in politics don’t care about values they used to stand for: all they care about is power, and that is the way they become more and more like Russian or Chinese oligarchs. Falsehoods like “everything is about power” openly spread in the Western intellectual and political discourse not only question all the values we believed in, all our morality and even ordinary decency. Platitudes like that are not only wrong; they are harmful because they relativize everything, open a path to Machiavellism and invite bad actors, like Putin, to the game.

But that’s enough bitterness, especially that our life is disgustingly comfortable compared to what the Ukrainian people experience at this moment, seeking shelter in the Kiev metro or deciding to find a refuge in Poland (like those who found shelter at the train station in my hometown, Przemyśl.) Times and moments like this should make us realize what are the real values on which our Western, free societies are founded; that there are things in life that are more important than comfort and everyday pleasures; that it is the fundamental values such as truth, justice and liberty that make our joyful and comfortable lives possible. The societies that don’t cherish these values drift fast towards the reality of Egypt, where tyrants or a small groups of oligarchs benefit enormously from work of impoverished masses that work from dawn to dusk without the day of rest, or, in an alternative scenario these masses have no work at all and no purpose of life other than survival, or no purpose at all, and nobody cares about it. That’s the reality that is looming everytime our true values are questioned. Maimonides believed that the essence of the first commandment is an unshakable faith in the Eternal and the minute we question His divinity, we question all our values, all our ethics, law and societal order. Absolutism can be a source of injustice, as history has shown numerous times, but there are times and places where being absolutely tied to our fundamental values is necessary and for the benefit of all of us. This, however, often requires sacrifices and that’s exactly the message Moses brought to our forefathers.

Shabbat shalom,

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Parashat Ki Tisa

Parashat Ki Tisa

(Shemot 30:11 – 34:35)

 

Miriam   Klimova,

rabbinical student   at   Hebrew   Union College in Jerusalem
and the Rabbi of  the  „Shirat   ha-Jam” congregation in Haifa.

           

It’s said that whatever we think about has a tendency to come true. But can we control our thoughts?

The mysterious bond between Moshe and the invisible God must have been a source of endless discussions and doubts among the people. At the beginning of parashat Ki Tisa Moshe is alone on the top of Mount Sinai, where he receives detailed instructions from God regarding the building and functioning of the Tabernacle. In the meantime the people of Israel are left alone, without their leader. Uncontrollable thoughts are filling their heads and are sowing a seed of fear in them. The prolonged absence of Moshe provokes deep anxiety – he disappeared! He said that he was going up the mountain to God, but the Israelites, tired of the desert, need God to be down here, next to them. Why is he spending so much time on that mountain? Does God, who needed only one night to dry up the water and to lead the Israelites through the sea, now need forty days and forty nights to carve 10 Commandments on two tablets?! We must act, we must take matters into our own hands! But how? Maybe we should make us a deity, and then God’s power will enter into it and show us the correct path? Moshe is still not coming back, so even more distressing thoughts appear – that this God of his has disappeared along with him, and these thoughts are slowly starting to drive them crazy.

We are tormented by questions about the people’s morality; how could they have come back to idolatry so quickly?! But did they really view the calf as a change of God? Moshe was a visible link to an invisible God. The Israelites did not think that God could be created from the gold of their decorations. This is a mistaken understanding of ancient beliefs. The calf was their new link to God and it was supposed to replace not God, but “this man Moshe”.

Aaron had nothing against this. He was convinced that the people would not believe in a God who cannot be seen. While Moshe demands an unconditional submission to an omnipotent, invisible Deity, Aaron wants to  express the idea of God in a way that can be understood. We can assume that this wasn’t strictly speaking idolatry. An abstract idea of divinity poses a great challenge for modern people, not to mention in the ancient times.

Why choose a calf? They have just been saved from Egyptian slavery. More than one generation was born there and of course they were being raised under the influence of the surrounding culture. Indeed the two main incidents of idolatry described in the Tanach are directly connected to ancient Egypt. One – described in parashat Ki Tisa, and the other was initiated by Yeroboam after he successfully took control over the fragmented Israeli kingdom  (1 Kings 12). The two stories have several things in common. First of all, in both cases the objects of cult had the shape of calves or caws, and secondly: these events took place in a difficult interim period, when the nation needed a sense of safety and unity. The link to Egypt is not an accident. The ancient Egyptians worshiped several deities which made use of the images of bulls and cows. There was a widespread cult of a heavenly cow – the goddess Hathor, sometimes presented as a cow, and then as a woman with a cow’s head and with a solar disk between the horns. A cow was perceived as life-giving; it sustained life through its milk, it was even said about certain Pharaohs that they were fed by Hathor.

Hathor as a cow suckling Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh,  at Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahari, 15th century BC

The goddess-cow strengthened, sustained and granted divinity to royal rule. When Yeroboam wanted to further unify his people, he probably made use of “pop-culture”. And similarly the Israelites, while left without a leader, on a hostile territory, with helpless families, in a time of need turned to a familiar cult in order to save themselves in a difficult situation.

Could this incident, which has left such a deep mark in Israel’s memory, have been avoided? Could they have overcome the fear that had poisoned their lives on more than one occasion? Could they have controlled their thoughts?

A similar question is raised in the story „Sipur chasidi”. It describes how a certain Chassid once came to Dov Ber of Mezeritch, called the Great Magid[1], to ask a question and share his doubts if freedom of choice applies to our thoughts as well – “The Torah forbids us to think evil thoughts. But what can we do when evil thoughts come to our mind? Can man control their thoughts?!”. Rather than giving him an answer, the Magid sent him to a remote place, Zhytomyr, to one of his students, rabbi Zeev. In the middle of winter, after weeks of travel, the Chassid knocked on the door, but there was no answer. With nowhere to go, he kept knocking on the door, while the Rabbi himself, just a couple of steps away from him, was reading by a warm fireplace… Finally Rabbi Zeev got up from his chair, he opened the door and welcomed the Chassids with his characteristic kindness and hospitality. After regaining his strength, the Chassid mustered the courage to ask his question. And Rabbi Zeev smiled and said: “I’ve already answered your question”. With his behavior the Rabbi wanted to show that I am the master in my home: “I let in whoever I want, and whoever I don’t want, I keep them outside”.

This story teaches us that every person is the master of their thoughts and only they can decide who can enter and who cannot. If there is chaos in our head, we won’t be able to fulfill our desires, fear will be bringing us down like a heavy stone, and a bad mood will not let us enjoy the rays of sunshine on our face.

The past few years have been a difficult experience for all of us – sickness, decisions about vaccinations, worrying about our loved ones, remote work or even losing one’s job, and also war conflicts. And although Moshe is not present in our lives as well, we shall not give up. And let us thank our ancestors, the Israelites on Sinai, for the possibility to learn from their mistakes.

May there be a will… that we learn how to control our thoughts and actions, so that each one of us can decide autonomously who can enter into our house-mind. After all, positive thinking, optimism and a sense of happiness require conscious skills!

Shabbat Shalom!

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinic student at HUC in Jerusalem, 
A Rabbi at the Shirat ha-Yam congregation in Haifa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka

[1] Dov Ber (18th century) was a student of Baal Shem Tov and after his death he succeeded him as the Chassidic leader.

Tetzaveh

Direct communication with the Eternal

Thoughts on parashat Tetzaveh

Menachem Mirski

To do the right thing is different from calling for or justifying doing the right thing. Practically speaking, these two do not always go together. Similarly, doing wrong/bad is different than trying to whitewash or justify the wrong/bad. Justified good is not particularly more good than just good, although the justifications may perpetuate more good. Justified bad has a capacity to become much more bad/evil than just bad. In the human world things generally gravitate towards bad if simply left alone and are not taken care of. It may have something to do with the structure of the universe, the laws of thermodynamics and of entropy. Sometimes we face difficult decisions in our life in which we deal with contradictory solutions that may have long lasting consequences, because things are very polarized.

When things stand on the edge, so to speak, when the decision in one direction can result in various benefits and blessings, and in the other direction it can be disastrous; in such troubled times, people throughout history have often entrusted their fate to higher than human authority, or at least believed they were doing it. In our Torah portion for this week, we find a description of one of the instruments that was used for direct consultation with the Most High, precisely for the purpose of making the appropriate decision:

Inside the breastpiece of decision you shall place the Urim and Thummim so that they are over Aaron’s heart when he comes before יהוה. Thus Aaron shall carry the instrument of decision for the Israelites over his heart before יהוה at all times. (Ex 28:30)

What were Urim and Thummim? These were very mysterious elements, often imagined as stones, that make the High Priest breastplate work. The breastplate was made from 12 precious stones on which the names of the 12 Israeli tribes were engraved. According to the Ramban commentaries, following Talmud (Yoma 77), also the names of the Patriarchs were included on the breastplate, together with the words Shivtei Yeshurun – the Tribes of Yeshurun. In this way all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet were on the breastplate. Urim ve’Thummim were placed inside the breastplate and through them the Eternal illuminated certain letters from the names on the breastplate and the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) would arrange them to compose words. For example, when the Israelites asked, „Who shall go up for us against the Canaanite?” (Kings 1:1), the letters of the word „Yehudah” lit up, along with the letter yud of Levi, ayin of Shimon, lamed of Levi and he of Avaham, spelling out the word ya’ale – „Yehudah will go up.”

The entire priestly breastplate is called Choshen Mishpat, which is the Hebrew for „Breastplate of Judgment”. (Ex 28:15) The original breastplate with the Urim ve’Thummim was lost with the destruction of the First Temple and has never been found since then.

An interesting, symbolic interpretation of what Choshen Mishpat was and of its function can be found in the commentary of Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, 1550-1619, who lived in Prague.) He quotes another commentator, Akeidah, who finds allusions in the form of the breastplate of judgment for how Jewish justice must operate. Each row had three stones: this is an allusion to batei din (Jewish courts) manned by three judges. Some of the stones were more precious, others less precious –  this teaches us that rich and poor are equal in the sight of the law, and that cases involving small amounts of money must be viewed as gravely as those involving large sums. The names of Yaakov’s sons were engraved in the stones according to their birth sequence, to teach that both the older and the younger judges’ opinions must be heard. The Urim ve’Thummim were set in the breastplate to teach that dayanim – „the judges in batei din” – bring light to the entire world. The judges are called „the eyes of the community,” for they shed light on the issues that confound the litigants.

When we put it on a more general level it teaches us that justice is a fundamentally social venture. Consequently, it teaches us about the partiality of our human individual judgment. It also teaches us that the pinnacle of justice is the Divine voice in it. This pinnacle marks both the ideal and the highest aspiration of human judgment. So let us take care of this ideal, because without it our judgment will always be lame. Doing something right, with long lasting consequences is often accompanied by various odds trying to prevent the right thing to happen. But there is the divine light, which we are able to comprehend, that keeps us continuing to strive for good, and it is this light that ultimately overcomes all darkness.

Shabbat shalom,

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Mishpatim

 The perpetual cycle of seeing the bad only

Thoughts on parashat Mishpatim

 Menachem Mirski 

The country is difficult when everything seems to be the simplest to everyone
The country is beautiful when everything seems bad to everyone

Marek Grechuta, Jeszcze pożyjemy / Yet we will live

Parashat Mishpatim is extraordinarily rich in laws, judgements and statutes governing every facet of human existence. Many laws and norms found in our sidra are specifications of the laws contained in the Decalogue, which is in the previous Torah portion. This comprehensive legislation covers relations between man and man, man and society, man and his enemy and even between man and animal or plant. And while some of them may appear out of date at first glance, some of them are timeless and unquestionably relevant also in today’s world:

And you shall be holy men to me: neither shall you eat any meat that is torn of beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs. Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thy hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to incline after a multitude to pervert justice: nor shalt thou favor a poor man in his cause. (Ex 22:30-23:1-3)

The first one, about not eating meat that is torn from an animal, is obvious to all of us. But I included it in the quotation above because for me they are logically a whole (and this whole is part of a larger whole). I believe that the essence of these words is the following: you shall be mindful and civilized, starting with what we eat and ending with our social behavior and political involvement. Not a lot of commentary is required to these words, that seem to be self-evident. But our parasha contains more wisdom regarding social life, and one of the most important of these is expressed in our parasha twice:

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex 22:20)

Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Miżrayim. (Ex 23:9)

The idea to treat the stranger fairly / love him (because you were strangers in the land Egypt) is expressed in the Torah at least a dozen times. One might well ask why the Torah places so much emphasis on this. I believe that the answer is the following: The Torah is fully aware of the historical cycle of oppression happening between various nations and social groups, sees evil in it and therefore orders us not to act on the impulse of retaliation, in order to break this cycle.

This idea is extremely relevant today, especially because from Marx, throughout the twentieth century to the present day, it has become very popular to view history as an endless conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed. Some thinkers and academics see this concept even as a key to understanding the entire human history. Not questioning the fact that the processes of reciprocal, perpetual oppression take place in human history, I strongly disagree that it is THE KEY to understand history and society. Furthermore, I believe that viewing history only through this lens is very simplistic. Why? Because people fundamentally cooperate and viewing history exclusively through the lens of perpetual oppression makes us overlook this positive process of cooperation which is the fundament of our civilization, civilizational development and the source of everything good that humanity brought to the world!

I understand why some people so strongly insist on viewing history and social affairs through the oppressor/oppressed lens: being particularly focused on what is still bad in our society is often a sign of great concern for the good of society. This idea is captured in the song by the Polish singer and poet, Marek Grechuta, which I quoted at the beginning: The country is beautiful when everything seems bad to everyone. But the problem is that it cuts both ways. Being completely one-sided and overly negative in perceiving the world and human affairs does a great psychological harm to us and our communities. Talking all the time about various groups fighting and oppressing each other makes us resentful and causes a desire for revenge to sprout in us. This leads people create various harmful concepts like the one of “good discrimination” (i.e. because people from one group historically oppressed another group of people it is now good and just to reverse the process and oppress the former oppressors, as a group). If we lose control over it and let these feelings escalate, it will only lead to violence. And this is exactly what the Torah wants to prevent us from doing, at the very beginning of this entire process!  The essential part of it is forgiveness: if you want to be forgiven, you have to be able to forgive others, no matter what their identity is. The Torah teaches:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD. (Lev 19:18)

The concept of breaking the cycle of perpetual, mutual oppression has the same goal as other laws in our parasha, including these quoted above: to raise us to a higher civilizational level. Thus, let us not be fooled by all sorts of concepts that question the wisdom of the Torah and let us continue in the process of social and moral self-improvement.

 

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Parashat Yitro

Parashat Yitro – פרשת יתרו

Shmot 18:1-20:23

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and the Rabbi of the „Shirat ha-Jam” congregation in Haifa.

Does human behavior depend on one’s nationality? One’s character, thinking and feeling, wisdom – do they depend on one’s ethnic background or religion?

This week, as we read Parasha Yitro, we are in one of the most important Shabbats in terms of Torah reading. After about ten weeks from their liberation, the Israelites have set up a camp in front of a holy mountain. The exodus from Egypt represents the physical birth of Israel as a nation, but the spiritual meaning of its existence is supposed to be defined exactly here – at Mount Sinai. Without the revelation and the covenant Israel would not differ in any way from other nations; it is exactly thanks to them that the Israelites will become a goy kadosh – a holy people. It’s worth emphasizing that the covenant will be made not only with those present at that moment,  but   “both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal, our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”, which means even with the yet unknown descendants of those who witnessed it. (Dvarim 29:14).

The scene looks very dramatic: thunders, lightning, clouds of smoke and fire, the sound of the shofar sounding louder and louder. The Midrash describes the giving of the Torah as a mysterious and powerful event. In the Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 88A it says that God forced the people of Israel to accept the Torah on Mount Sinai:

„Va-itjacvu be-tachtit ha-har” – “they took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17). Rabbi Avdimi bar Ḥama bar Ḥasa said: the Jewish people actually stood beneath the mountain, and the verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial.

We can find a similar story about a “mountain hanging over the Israelites” in Tractate Avoda Zara 2B. The story’s background is a question about other nations of the world and their right to accept the Torah. According to the Talmud God had already offered to give the Torah to other nations earlier, but they didn’t want it. So, when He came to the Israelites:

 “…the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial”

That’s what the Midrash says…  Whether we believe these words or not, in our parasha the Israelites will become “chosen among all nations(Shmot 19:5). The promise of a special chosenness will be the key factor in Jewish life for thousands of years. It is exactly in parasha Yitro where the culmination point of the Book of Shmot takes place – God is revealed to the people of Israel. God reveals the fundamental rules of the Torah which we call the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue.

Why is such an important Parasha named after a goy – a Midianite priest? Who was this man? Why did he come? From where and for what purpose?

Rabbi Gil Nativ, Phd, believes that according to the traditional rule the name of this week’s Parasha should be “Vaishma”, after its first meaningful word:

 „and Yitro heard…” (Shmot 18:1).

Just like Parashot Vayetze and Vayishlach in the book of Bereshit and  Vaikra at the beginning of the book of Vaikra, Vayelech in the Book of Devarim. Each of these names is a past tense verb in the third person singular. Nonetheless, our tradition preferred to name this Parasha after  Mose’s father-in-law – Yitro.

The Torah portrays him as a man of strong religious beliefs, hospitality and wisdom. It was him who gave shelter to a refugee from Egypt and gave him his daughter Tzipora as a wife. During the meeting Moshe told his father-in-law everything that God had done to the Pharaoe and the Egyptians and how God had liberated his nation. Yitro rejoiced after hearing that and made offerings to the God of Israel!

Yitro gave Moshe wise advice on how to enforce justice (Shmot 18:19-23), and in a later passage in the Book of Bemidbar he was invited by Moshe to join Israel permanently during the conquering and settlement in Canaan. Although he declined this invitation, he came back to his country as a loyal friend of Israel – he was Israel’s friend from the moment when he became related to Moshe.

Midrash Vajikra Raba 9:3 tells a story about a man who didn’t know the Torah or even how to say a blessing, but he behaved appropriately towards people. This story led to the creation of a Talmudic rule, according to which  “Derech Eretz kadma la-Tora” – appropriate behavior precedes the Torah.

Yitro is a wonderful example of this rule, especially since he is someone who comes from the outside and not from the people of Israel. He appears  before the offering of the Torah to share his wisdom and teach us appropriate behavior. This way the Talmud states loud and clear that it’s possible, and even worthwhile, to learn from persons who are not part of the Jewish people!

Every person deserves respect from others. But often our pride, our prejudices and our fear make us blind. In contemporary times we find ourselves in a multicultural environment on a daily basis. People can be good, people can be bad. But dividing them based on the color of their skin, their ethnic and national background, their religion or lack thereof, sexual orientation, gender, age or disabilities shows a lack of respect towards God Himself, who created everyone in His image and likeness. No person can declare that they’re better than others.

Yitro was not a Jew, and Moses was a refugee. If he spoke Hebrew, he must have certainly had a heavy Egyptian accent.

May there be a will that we learn how to see in front of us first and foremost a human being.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים:

„Blessed are You, o Adonai, our God, who rules the universe, opening the eyes of the blind”. (Siddur, Morning blessings)

Shabbat Shalom!

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinic student at HUC in Jerusalem, 
A Rabbi at the Shirat ha-Yam congregation in Haifa.

Beshalach

The enslaving power of habit and comfort

Thoughts on parashat Beshalach

Menachem Mirski

Tyranny never gives up on its own. With a very few historical exceptions, it has never subsided until it was completely defeated. And there are typically no polite, peaceful, democratic methods to unseat the tyrant. It has to be done in a radical way.

This is one of the lessons from this week’s Torah portion. Pharaoh did not abandon his dream of keeping the Israelites captive until he suffered a final defeat and his armies were sunk into the sea. The Israelites who left slavery have achieved liberty and physical freedom. But they carried with themselves their slave mentality. As long as things were going clearly their way, as long as everything went smoothly, they were happy and content. When the Egyptians suffered their final defeat, drowning in the sea, the Israelites joined Moses in the most joyous and extatic song of praise and gratitude to God:

And when Israel saw the wondrous power which the LORD had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD; they had faith in the LORD and His servant Moses. Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD. They said:

I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously;

Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea…

(Ex 14:31-15:1)

But the minute they encountered problems, challenges and when things suddenly became difficult – they were immediately willing to give up their freedoms and go back to Egyptian slavery. They conveniently forgot how Egypt had afflicted and tortured them:

The Israelites said to them [Moses and Aaron]: “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.” (Ex 16:3)

They immediately forgot the infinite kindness of the Eternal, who redeemed them in the most wondrous way… In their weakness, they were able to think almost only about the here and now; they were able to think about the past and future only very selectively. It looks like their logic was as simple as that: “We don’t have food. Where did we have food? In Egypt. So let’s go back to Egypt.”

That is what the slave mentality about – about being (permanently) powerless and turning to whoever has power at the moment. Mentality of this kind is also about lack of faith, lack of self-respect and short sightenness, but at the core of the slave mentality is weakness, weakness of any kind – physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and spiritual. Human beings have a capacity to be slaves in all these realms separately. We can be enslaved physically by people or conditions that overpower us. Then we need to find strength (not necessarily a physical one) to overpower the force that enslaves us. We can be enslaved emotionally, while fully free in other realms, but to live a full life we need to be able to break the yoke of this emotional slavery as well. We can also be enslaved intellectually or spiritually; if that’s the case then our “lower” freedoms don’t matter a lot. Physical freedom is important but it is not enough to make us fully free people; it is not as important as intellectual independence and spiritual freedom. Physical freedom has no meaning and no purpose if it is not guided by free intelect and independent spirit, that is the source of identity, psychological integrity, meaning and purpose. Only then we are able to enjoy all our freedoms and pursue happiness. Thus, the intellectual and spiritual freedoms are in fact the sources of all the “lower” freedoms – the psychological, emotional and physical one. That is why the Israelites needed Moses and his guidance – only a free man, raised among free people, without the slave mentality and victimhood syndrome could have liberated them.

To avoid the intellectual or spiritual enslavement we need to be able to constantly reevaluate our views and ideas, lest we become slaves to them. We do, sometimes, stick to the theories and ideas even if we know they don’t work (for us) anymore. Additionally, just as the Israelites constantly forgot about the true, miserable reality of Egypt, so too we tend to diminish or understate the evils we were once subjected to. I’m sure that many people in Poland heard the phrase “Life was not that bad in the Communist bloc, wasn’t it?” This phenomenon is the result of our innate, psychological tendency to idealize our past, which is usually a helpful adaptation mechanism, although, as it turns out, the effects of this mechanism are not always positive.

Thus, in order to be fully free we need to be able to counter ourselves – to counter our feelings, our views and even to challenge our entire belief system. All of that is necessary to be able to separate the (informational) wheat from the chaff and pursue intellectually meaningful and coherent life in the times of widespread misguidance and confusion.

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Miketz

Thoughts on Parashat Miketz

Menachem Mirski

How should we live? On what basis should we make life choices? Should we trust God, ourselves, or maybe other people, for example those from the government? Or maybe we should trust only some people, or for example experts and science and technology?

Of course we can find answers to these questions in the Torah and Rabbinic literature. Last week’s Torah portion ends with the story about Joseph interpreting the dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker. According to the prophecies conveyed in both dreams the chief baker will be sentenced to death, whereas the cupbearer will be restored to serving at the Pharaoh’s court. Joseph knows that this will happen, that’s why he asks the cupbearer:

But think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place. (Gen 40:14)

In this week’s Torah portion we read that Joseph had to wait for two years to get out of jail:

After two years’ time, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, when out of the Nile there came up seven cows, handsome and sturdy, and they grazed in the reed grass. (Gen 41:1-2)

Why is the Torah even mentioning this? Why did 2 years have to pass before the Pharaoh had a dream that only Joseph could explain?

According to Midrash Bereshit Rabbah Joseph had to spend two additional years in prison because the Divine plan for the world and the people of Israel had to be fulfilled. But the Midrash adds one detail: these two years correspond to the two words that Joseph “inadvertently” said to the cupbearer:

But think of me… and [mention me] to Pharaoh… (Gen 40:14)

Joseph was punished because these words show his desperation, and at the same time his lack of faith in the Eternal. Joseph sinned because he did not have trust in the Eternal, but instead he was relying on one, ordinary person (which actually sounds quite rational, considering the possibilities and limitations and the strengths and weaknesses of an average person). Joseph was punished because he was a tzadik, and Adonai medakdek im tzadikim k’chut ha’saara – Adonai is scrupulous with tzaddikim even to a single hair. The essence of being a tzadik is therefore extraordinary scrupulousness and completely  entrusting God with one’s life, in every aspect of one’s life. Everything comes down to fulfilling God’s law and to faith in the Eternal; since everything that happens in our lives comes from Him (including of course various punishments and rewards). But on the other hand in the rabbinical tradition we have a clear doctrine stating that we should never, especially in difficult situations, expect that a “miracle will happen” and we shouldn’t rely on such faith:

A person should never stand in a place of danger saying that they on High will perform a miracle for him, lest in the end they do not perform a miracle for him. And, moreover, even if they do perform a miracle for him, they will deduct it from his merits. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 32a)

So is there a contradiction between these two concepts? No, if we define more precisely what faith in God is. First of all, faith in the Eternal does not come down to believing in miracles. The great majority of paths that God shows us in our lives do not have a miraculous or supernatural character, but are rather completely ordinary and natural. Relying on miracles is perceived as “testing God” and is forbidden:

Do not try the LORD your God, as you did at Massah. (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Actually in Massah the Israelites did try God: while standing in front of the Horab Mountain, waiting for Moses to miraculously retrieve water from the rock for them, they asked:

“Is the Eternal present among us or not?”  (Ex 17:8)

Let’s go back to the questions we asked at the beginning: How should we live? On what basis should we make life choices? Should we trust God, ourselves, or maybe other people, for example those from the government? Or maybe we should trust only some people, or for example experts and science and technology?  Certainly we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket and not leave everything to God, whom we should nonetheless trust. So in each situation we should have a multi-prong approach and have several alternative plans. We should trust both people and ourselves, as well as science and technology, but consider each of them with prudence and necessary critical thinking.

Trusting God entails mainly fulfilling His commandments. And when it comes to our expectations towards Him, then yes, we can expect from God help in every life situation. But we shouldn’t expect that God’s answer will have a miraculous, supernatural character or that it will be exactly as we wish. God usually offers us many different solutions; they are not always what we’d imagined they would be, although they often come close. Joseph trusted one possibility; a possibility that God didn’t actually consider in His plans.

God’s answer can come in different shapes: for example the Eternal gives us wisdom as well as inspiration and motivation to act and He removes the obstacles standing in our way. But in order to access His help and protection, we must open our hearts and minds to the world as widely as possible, so that we can notice everything that the Eternal has planned for us, since everything that happens around us is an element of the Divine plan – usually an element “which is not aware of itself”.

Shabbat Shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka